Zurich-born Caroline Bachem is one of our up-and-coming Junior Consultants in our Operations team. Caroline started out in the MedTech industry after completing her bachelor’s in Biology, her MSc in Biochemistry and her MSc in Health Sciences & Technology at ETH Zurich. She is also a talented sportsperson; in her youth she represented Switzerland at the European and World Junior Squash Championships, and now as an adult she currently holds the number 5 spot in the national elite rankings.
So it was no surprise that during Caroline’s Spotlight interview, the comparison between playing competitive squash and working in the MedTech industry became the fascinating focus of our conversation. Below, Caroline shares 8 learnings from her squash experience that continue to guide her MedTech career to date.
For as long as I can remember, squash has been an important part of my life. Movement and sport more generally have been prominent too, because the effect of training on the human body has always been of great interest to me. When comparing the skillsets needed on the squash court with what facilitates a successful career in MedTech, the list is kind of endless! But here are some of the key principles I learned in squash that I can apply to my job every day…
1. Having a game plan, and maintaining 360° vision
You never go into a match without a game plan. On and off the court, I think having a sound strategy is always important. I like to consider different approaches, take decisions, make a plan, then pursue it to completion.
When you’re on the squash court with your opponent, you need 360° vision to ensure you have an overview of the whole situation in order to perform well. You also need to anticipate your opponent’s next move or shot and to prepare for what may or may not come.
This is helpful in a professional context. Taking the time to step back, looking at all the moving pieces as a whole, getting an overview and making an effective plan that pre-empts a variety of outcomes helps to ensure broader, and longer-term success.
I’ve found this to be the case in my current role as a Biocompatibility Specialist. Whilst I was initially assigned a certain scope of MedTech products, I tried to create benefits for future work. Ultimately, we defined an approach which may now prove valuable for other product groups.
2. Being adaptable, and welcoming new experiences
The squash court is an environment that’s full of surprises, so you have to be flexible, and be able to adapt your tactics as required. This has helped me embrace new opportunities throughout my education and in my professional life.
As part of my master’s in Biochemistry, I undertook a 3-month research internship in Quebec City which was a lot of fun. The experience gave me a whole new perspective and tested me in new ways.
With Quebec City being located in the French speaking part of Canada, there were certainly challenges. All the lab meetings were in French, my tutors and supervisors spoke French too and at the same time, I was of course a long way from home.
But there are some great stories that remain – like the experience of finding an apartment in a new country. Or the commitment needed to pursue my hobbies whilst abroad; it was necessary to take two buses via an autoroute to a military base so I could play squash at the weekends!
I do enjoy challenges like these though, because I believe you become more independent when you’re pushed outside of your comfort zone.
3. Embracing variety
Squash requires a variety of different components; endurance, speed, and strength to name just a few. This combination drives my love for the sport. When it comes to my professional skills, I’ve been fortunate to have studied and applied a variety of scientific approaches.
After my master’s in Biochemistry, I decided to pursue another MSc. Whilst Biochemistry had been a good way for me to find out what happens at a cellular level, I wanted to figure out how the human body functions as a whole, so I enrolled in a Master’s in Health Sciences & Technology, majoring in Human Movement Science and writing my thesis on Sport Biomechanics.
My internship at Anti-Doping Schweiz as part of this MSc was my first step in combining my interests; biochemical topics and athletic performance. As a competitive squash player I had been introduced to Anti-Doping well before this. As juniors representing Swiss Squash, we’d been party to an excellent Swiss Olympic campaign that targeted young athletes. Called Cool and Clean, the campaign encouraged young sportspeople to avoid drinking, smoking and using performance enhancing drugs – in short, to play fair by staying clean.
After my studies I joined the professional world with a position at Zimmer Biomet. I actually worked there with Silvio Peng, and now we’re back on the same team again which is great!
I was hired as a Medical Device Safety Specialist and involved in the MDR project. Being on the analytical testing services team, I was mostly analysing manufacturing aids applied in production. I frequently used chemical and scientific databases and had the chance to collaborate with other subject matter experts on risk benefit analyses. In addition, I was involved in a few transfer projects. The role also extended to working with the supplier quality department to evaluate the supplier’s manufacturing processes and materials. It was at a supplier visit where I met Bastian Perroset – Head of Operations at Congenius. About nine months later, Bastian contacted me about the position I’m in now, which is how I now find myself at Congenius.
4. Applying what you’ve learnt
The hours spent at squash training are pointless if, during a match, you don’t apply what you’ve learnt.
I’ve been fortunate in my MedTech career so far, to have had the opportunity to apply the skills I learnt at ETH. The first example of this was during my time at Zimmer Biomet, where I worked in an environment that made a great start in the MedTech industry possible.
My education gave me the toolbox to work in a problem-solving environment. I like to use the phrase “problem analytics” to describe the systematic approach you can take to solve a problem by breaking down what the problem is about, what needs solving and what the attributes of a good solution look like. When a problem is identified, I can add value by utilising this methodical approach to help the team find a solution. Solving one problem then motivates me for the next challenge.
5. Contributing to a team effort
As a junior squash player you rely on a “village” of support. There’s a coach and a whole team behind you helping you succeed. Without them, success wouldn’t be possible, which is also the case in my job right now. I am doing my part to contribute to the team goals, but of course it takes a whole lot of people to achieve success!
This sense of team is something I like about working at Congenius – the employees are the core of the company and our progress and continued education is invested in. The environment is so supportive, and I really feel the team spirit when I talk to my peers at Congenius – it’s something that is quite unique and special. Common interests and goals drive us forward – we are definitely a team pulling on the same string!
6. Precision is key, whilst also a challenge
Squash is a game based on angles – geometry, timing and skill play a big part. A high level of precision is involved which of course is also the case within the MedTech industry.
For example, when it comes to Biocompatibility, we rely on precise testing methods. Looking to the future, this will continue to be mostly based on chemical characterisation and in-vitro testing. Lab apparatus is becoming more sensitive, and tiny amounts of residue that have previously been undetected, can now be discovered.
With the huge amount of data that can now be generated by labs, certain questions arise like; what can we learn from the data and how do we need to modify our approach as a result? Take a frequently used legacy device for example; suddenly you can identify tiny traces of a substance that hasn’t been considered before – do we need to revise our previous assessment and adapt our strategy? So whilst precision is essential, in the Biocompatibility and Toxicology space the availability of precise and sensitive testing will present some really interesting challenges in future.
7. Pushing yourself to always improve
Even the best squash players need to keep developing their game, in order to remain competitive.
In a professional capacity, a short-term goal for me is to continue my education in the field of Toxicology. More broadly, it’s an ongoing aim of mine to just keep learning. I know I can still learn a lot from peers, supervisors and reviewers and I try to absorb everything possible to improve myself. This will allow me to produce better results and provide a higher quality of work, leading to better and safer products for the end user.
8. Having a clear purpose
When I was 16, I tore my ACL and relied on surgery and therapy to fully recover. The modern technology made available through the work of those in the MedTech industry enabled the reconstruction of my ACL. Subsequent therapy and gradual resumption of my training brought me back to the level I was playing at prior to the injury. I think this experience is one of the main reasons why I chose a career in MedTech – because as an industry, it allows people to enjoy a higher quality of life for longer.
I am inspired by being able to do meaningful work – meaningful to me, and meaningful for the people who benefit from the work we do. Being able to reinforce a team and make a difference by contributing something essential gives me a sense of purpose. One single person cannot change the world, but I believe that when a lot of people come together and work towards a common goal there can be real change. When I retire, I’d like to be able to look back and know that I was part of a team effort to ensure the quality and safety of products that improve the lives of patients.